Ray made the necessary changes to have a historic career

Street Talk Ray made the necessary changes to have a historic career

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Yesterday was historic. It was pure joy to witness, in person, the final home game of Ray Lewis’ career. We arrived to tailgate at 8 AM and enjoyed every minute of the day until we left the parking lot after 6 PM. The stadium was packed by 12:30, and was just as loud as ever. It was a great day to celebrate one of the best players to ever step on the football field.

However, not living in Maryland anymore, I continually heard time after time non-Ravens fans asking what the deal with Ray Lewis was. Here is a sample of some of the things I heard:

  • How come everyone is talking about how great Ray Lewis is, like he’s a saint? Are they completely ignoring the murder?
  • I remember Ray Lewis being all wrapped up in a murder investigation about 10 years ago, but he “got off”. Now he’s being celebrated and sporting a “Psalm 91” t-shirt. What’s the deal?
  • He’s not the greatest ever… he’s a murderer!

Those are three exact questions/statements that I heard over the weekend and I heard many more that are very similar. So I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge and respond to them.

I was quoted in the Baltimore Sun this morning in an article about Ray Lewis as saying the following:

“I get it. There are a lot of doubts about what happened in Atlanta,” where Lewis was charged with murder in the fatal stabbing of two men after the 2000 Super Bowl. He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and agreed to testify against two companions.

Like others, though, Polek was won over by Lewis’ transformation. He taught his young daughters the Ray Lewis dance, and bought them jerseys. He happened to get tickets to Sunday’s game and — as was the case at Ripken’s record-breaking game — could not hold back tears at various points.

But let me give you a little background. Ray Lewis came out of the University of Miami, where the football team has a reputation of being a group of rough and tough troublemakers. Some might even say “thugs.” When he came to the Ravens, he was an outstanding football player, but he hung around with the wrong crowd. Just a couple years after coming to the NFL, Lewis was in Atlanta to party at the Super Bowl gatherings. He was still hanging with the wrong crowd at night clubs. Two men were murdered at one of those clubs. Lewis and his buddies were there, and were accused of murdering those men.

The facts are that there was not enough evidence to prove Lewis had anything to do with stabbing the men, so he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and served a short time in jail.

My opinion (and the opinion of many, including the media) is that the Fulton County prosecutor saw his chance for fame when he said the name of Ray Lewis. There was never any clear indication that Ray ever held a knife that night. Does he know who did? We will never know. But the mystery of the night continues to hang of Lewis’ head.

But that trial changed everything for Lewis. At the time, veterans on the Ravens, like Shannon Sharpe, Deion Sanders, and Rod Woodson took Lewis under their wing and told him that he could no longer surround himself with those type of people. He needed to change, and change he did.

Lewis was raised in a Christian home and the trial took him back to his roots. And with time, those roots grew deep and the fruit began to sprout.

A few years later, Lewis was driving in downtown Baltimore and witnessed a drug transaction going down, where the dealer was using a teenage boy to do his running for him. Lewis stopped the car, and confronted the drug dealer. Then Lewis went a step further… he invited the dealer to the Ravens practice. A couple days later the dealer showed up with a bunch of his buddies, and Lewis helped to turn each of those guys’ lives around.

Here’s another example of how Lewis has changed and become a mentor to the players around him, from the Ravens Senior VP of Public Relations, Kevin Byrne.

The two Rays met on the first day of minicamp in 2008, Rice’s rookie season. After a morning practice, little Ray grabbed a tray in the cafeteria line on his way to lunch. The man behind him said: “Ray Rice, I’m Ray Lewis, and I love the way you play.”

After Rice called him “Sir,” and big Ray said, “none of that,” Lewis then recalled a Thursday night Rutgers game that Rice starred in. You could tell that Rice was flattered. Then the senior Ray put his hand on Ray’s shoulder and said: “Young man, you should pull up your pants. We don’t wear them like that around here.” Rice dutifully pulled his shorts up higher.

I reminded Rice of that recently, and he said, “He was right. My pants were too low, and it was time for me to grow up. They haven’t been low since.”

Lewis has helped to also transform the city of Baltimore. He gives of his money to help upgrade the city, especially to struggling schools and their sports programs. But more importantly, Lewis takes time to impact lives of people in the community.

If you haven’t seen “A Football Life: Ray Lewis” on the NFL Network, you need to view this segment: http://www.nfl.com/videos/baltimore-ravens/0ap1000000064032/A-Football-Life-Ray-Lewis-giving-back.

It shows the side of Lewis that not many people see. Lewis doesn’t promote himself, he just cares for people.

Lewis is the leader on and off the field. But he also continues to help the younger players on the team not fall into the bad habits that he fell into. Lewis leads weekly Bible studies for the team and is handing out Bibles to his teammates at training camp.

As a Christian myself, I know that God can change a life from the inside out. Sometimes it just takes us hitting rock bottom first, before we are willing to accept the change God wants to provide. Ray Lewis hit rock bottom in Atlanta in 2000. With God’s help, Ray made a life change. And from that change he has become a legend, not only on the football field, but also to many in the community.

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Joe Polek

About Joe Polek

Joe Polek was born in Baltimore, MD, and was raised in Bel Air, MD. He lived in Maine from 2001-2012, where he met his wife and had two daughters. He now resides in Columbia, SC where he has left TV/Radio and is the South Carolina Marketing Coordinator for Bojangles’ Restaurants. Joe is a huge sports fan, but most importantly he lives and breathes Baltimore (and Maryland) sports. He routinely gets back to Baltimore for a Ravens and Orioles game once a year. A couple of his highlights were being at the final game at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, and also sitting in left field for “2130”, and “2131” (Cal Ripken’s consecutive game streak).

Find Joe on Twitter @JoePolek.

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